Tag Archives: Education

Marking Exams

The game
Image by Dr Stephen Dann via Flickr

Step1: The preparation.
If I have set the marks criteria for the exam questions, the first step is spent tuning the set up, putting advice to the numbers so I know what it takes to score the HD on the paper, what separates a Distinction from a Credit or Pass. This includes coding a spreadsheet in Excel that matches the marks breakdown for the exam, and has the list of student id numbers. The Excel speadsheet also gets divided into blocks of five student numbers so I can track how far I am from the end of the process. Other coding (sum, averages, percentage) are set up. At this stage it’s all in draft mode, and fairly flexible if I need to completely redo the criteria based on how it performs under real exam conditions.

Step2: Processing the papers
The next step consists of me working through the manuscripts to check which ones are missing from the pile (no exam ever produces 100% of the cohort in the one room. There’s always an exam to arrive later from a special requirements sitting.) so that the Excel spreadsheet matches the exam pile. When I mark in sequence, I want to make sure that the paper above and below match the list on the screen. It’s also the ideal time to divide the exams into blocks of five papers.

This is the time to code any additional data being stored about the exam – I’m tracking the number of pages spent on Question 1 (20 marks) versus Question 2 (10 marks). I did say to the cohort that they had to balance the answer lengths, and I did mean it. Also, having drilled this into the cohort over numerous points in the semester, I want to see how they perform on the final. Plus, I’ve spent a good bit of code on the “if then” logic statements in Excel to give me a bias lean score for the paper. Equal weight between the questions is good, mild bias lean can be overlooked, giant bias lean means being sent to clean out the hoverocerous stables.

Step 3: Payday
Coding is set. First set of exams are used to check the codes are in place properly, the marking criteria is working, and the minor tweaks needed to make the assessment fair are in place. At this point, I start looking at the impact of the exam marks on the pass/fail probabilities, and work out a rough high point and low point score in my head that makes the HD worth achieving and the must-pass-to-pass achievable at the same. First two exams took 26 minutes to mark. Four exams at 48 minutes. Tweaking the scoring, confidence setting and minor changes to the distributions take place. Prior scores rechecked against new coding.

Step 4: And the man at the back said “Everyone Attack” and it turned into a Ballroom Blitz
Once the marks criteria is stable, and the assessment expectations are firmly planted in my head, it becomes a pattern recognition process of reading the answers, checking them against the criteria lists (printed and on the walls of the workspace), and the expectations (on the second PC screen in the workspace). Fatigue is an issue in Step 4 since I’m starting to move at pace in the reading/mark inputting process, it’s easy to get a mental fog forming after a while. Distractions are most welcome.

Step 5: The Long Road Home
20 papers left to go (well, 19 in the stockpile, 1 somewhere at work in the internal mail). The method is well entrenched, the crosschecking less frequent, and I know what I want to see for an HD,D,C or P grade in that answers. Plus, my magic’s hand question is doing the job nicely of diverting students to the question I wanted them to answer (at a ratio of 7:1). The second half of the papers flow faster than the first, since I have half a cohort of students worth of practice, and the criteria is tried, tested and locked into place.

Step 6: Aftermath
Using Excel to code the exam marks is particularly useful as it allows me to create individual marks sheets via the magic of Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, five litres of goat blood and mail merge. Each exam has a custom marks sheet printed out with the average for the question component, what the student has per that component, and their overall total. It’s gone a long way towards autofeedback since we don’t mark up the exams with comments anymore.

Since the exams are current in an embargo state, I can’t actually release the various files attached to the system (eg criteria sheets, XLS, PDF of the expectations etc). That’ll have to wait for a later, post-exam date.

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The Upside of Teaching

The first half of the semester is over, and it’s two weeks of non class time to recapture lost momentum in the research pool, bolster the ranks of the productivity inducing schemes, and generally spent 14 days without standing in front of a class.  As much as I love teaching, there’s some quality time to be spent with my keyboard.

The Cons of Teaching

There are downsides to teaching, and the way I teach.  MKTG2032/7037 (bless its little noodly socks) is a chaos engine, spinning up more problems than solutions – which, y’know, as an e-marketing subject, it probably is making a decent case study on the internet.  Things broke, labs were poorly equipped, the Firefox still doesn’t run flash, and the IE browsers are ill tempered brutes stuck in IE6 timewarps. It’s harder yards this year than previous years, and, by my own hand, I’ve drafted myself into a 11-5pm teaching schedule when I’m really only supposed to teach 11 to 2.

Teaching is quite physically demanding – on Thursdays, I perform a 1 hour show, followed by a three hour seminar.  I need to switch minds, present, perfom, and then come down from the performance high and be functional to prepare for the six hour shift on Friday.

Teaching is mentally demanding, and it’s some times difficult to switch back from EXPERT to EXPLAINER.  Monologues get interrupted before you’re ready, and dialogues turn into the sound of one hand clapping.  It’s a chess match played on a scrabble board with Calvinball rules.

The Pros

The moment when you’re sitting around, either talking to the students or listening to them talk, and you can just hear it click into place. They get it.  Last two weeks have seen so many points where people in my classes have said something, asked something, or, (and it was so cool today) felt something about the course materials.  Listening to my students who first encountered blogs with a lolcattern DO NOT WANT! talk excitedly about blogging, technique, and how they were addicted to their analytics was awesome.

Reading new ideas, seeing new ideas, and learning from explaining. I’ve published several papers that began life as examples in class, notes on a whiteboard, or two slides in powerpoint, and turned into something bigger.

Putting new ideas and new spins on ideas into practice because your students have beginners minds, and give you the option to explore from a new approach.

Performing.  There’s no other gig on the planet I can get that pays this well, offers six hours on stage a week GUARANTEED, and, where I can write my own script, or improv as I see fit.  It’s a glorious life for the stage performer at heart.

The Wrap Up: AAAA++ Would definitely take this career again.